Unless you’re an aficionado of middle-eastern culture or world politics, you have probably heard little about the Kurds, a historically nomadic ethnic group that inhabits the mountains that edge Turkey, Syria Iraq and Iran. Photographer Jon Vidar’s first public exhibition offers an intimate look at this culture that has thrived since the Mesopotamian era but has garnered little consideration in modern times.
Vidar’s short series of photographs, which focuses on Kurds in both southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, purposefully ignores the politics of the region. Instead, it tells the story of a staunchly traditional culture grappling with modernization.
The exhibition deliberately juxtaposes old and new—though all Kurds are facing change in their culture, these changes are not homogenous across the region. Turkish Kurds fight to maintain strict traditions among a quickly industrializing country. In contrast, Iraqi Kurds delight in Westernization but lack the infrastructure (such as electricity) to support their rapidly developing region.
The photographs, culled from Vidar’s summers in the region during an archeological dig that lasted four years, are thoughtfully composed; Many are tightly shot and exude dramatic lighting, which makes the more mundane scenes more striking.
But the real surprise in this exhibit comes from each photo’s candidness—as if the viewer has just stumbled into a private moment in a Kurdish family’s life and was offered a chair and a cup of tea to continue the conversation.
While the exhibition consists of just 21 pictures, it leaves a lasting uneasiness of what will happen to this people’s deeply rooted culture as the region’s politics and development continue to bring change.
All Images © 2009 Jon Vidar Photography